Striking doctors
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Night of drama in push to end doctors’ strike

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Striking doctors in a procession along Uhuru Highway in Nairobi on April 9, 2024.

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

A six-hour meeting between top government officials and Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) representatives on Friday to end the doctors’ strike resulted in yet another stalemate.

It was expected that a return-to-work formula would be reached and deposited in court at 9.30am on Monday, effectively ending the strike. 

However, the negotiations ended on a sour note that saw a bitter press briefing by the government side that was followed by hard-hitting tweets by the Ministry of Health.

KMPDU was firm on what it perceives as encroachment on the profession, saying the people leading negotiations are dishonest.

The government's side had Head of Public Service Felix Koskei and Cabinet Secretaries Susan Nakhumicha (Health) and Florence Bore (Labour).

The Council of Governors was represented by Health Committee Chairman Muthomi Njuki (Tharaka Nithi) Vice Chairman Ahmed Abdullahi (Wajir), Labour Committee Chairman Mutahi Kahiga (Nyeri) and Council Whip Stephen Sang (Nandi).

KMPDU had, among others, Secretary-General Davji Atellah and his deputy Dennis Miskellah.

Mr Koskei said doctors made new demands, though he did not give details. Neither did he give a list of issues that had already been agreed on.

“If the doctors will not have signed the return-to-work formula by Monday, we ask the court to put necessary measures to ensure Kenyans get services,” Mr Koskei said. 

Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service Felix Koskei.

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

“Let the interns boycotting work know that they are wasting their time as another lot is graduating soon. If they miss out, they will have to wait again. Their action is affecting undergraduate students.”

Dr Atellah said the government provided an open document without timelines for implementation.

“You say you will settle the seven-year basic salary arrears when the funds are made available by the National Treasury,” Dr Atellah said.

He added that doctors never made new demands as claimed by Mr Koskei.

“We asked the government and governors to include timelines in the 18 issues they say have been agreed on.” 

He added that the government said it would release money to counties by July 1. 

“Unfortunately, county governments do not want to commit in writing (as) when they will pay doctors. This is a game we are not willing to play. What they want is their way or the highway. This will not work,” Dr Atellah told the Sunday Nation. 

The KMPDU Secretary-General said doctors have not refused to sign the agreement but that they want the government and governors to be honest.

“During the five-hour Friday meeting, we were ready to call off the work boycott. What was presented to us was nothing but a document we have been fighting for the last 50 days,” he said.

According to Dr Miskellah, the government was adamant that it would not make changes to the document presented. 

He said the union was asked to sign it without any alteration.

“If it is signing the document as it is, we would have appended our signatures a long time ago. Why would you say that we have agreed to give medical cover to doctors but are not telling me or you do not want to commit when that will be done? Who is fooling who?” he asked.

Government representatives said during the “whole nation approach” meeting, the union presented a set of demands, different from what had been lodged in court.

Ms Nakhumicha said KMPDU raised a new matter of self-sponsored registrars.

“As the government, we have said – and I emphasise – that the only issue we had not agreed on was internship. Yesterday (Thursday), the court directed that the issue of internship should be consolidated with the matter in court in Eldoret, and be held in abeyance unless parties can discuss,” the Health CS said. 

“That is the issue they have reopened.”

A video of Ms Nakhumicha saying that was posted on the Ministry of Health’s official X handle on Saturday.

“The other matter they have brought is that they want the government to pay salaries to self-sponsored registrars. That as a doctor, you sit and say now you want to go for master’s degree. And you say you will pay for yourself. Now they want us to pay those doctors,” she said.

Dr Miskellah wanted to know why the government and governors are purporting that the union gave additional demands “yet they were the same people who earlier indicated that they had sorted 18 of the 19 issues”.

“If I have your money and I have accepted to refund, you have the right to ask when I will do that. As someone who is rightfully asking for your money, you have the right to know when exactly I will do that. Is that too much to ask?” Dr Atellah asked. 

Davji Atellah

Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists' Union (KMPDU) Secretary General Dr Davji Bhimji Atellah.

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

“What issues did we introduce to the document? If the government means well and wants to end this strike, let it stick to the truth.”

He added that KMPDU did not walk out on the negotiating committee but that he and his team only asked for two breaks to discuss the matter with other doctors.

“During the first break, we went to talk to colleagues who rejected the idea. After the second break, we requested for timelines to be included in the document, but they refused. That’s why we gave them up to Monday.

They can then sign once it is amended,” Dr Miskellah said.

In the Thursday court order, the two parties were directed to sign a return-to-work formula presented before it.

“Since they went ahead and signed the document and insisted that they were going to present it in court, we have also prepared our return-to-work document, with all the suggestions, and signed. We shall present it in court on Monday,” the KMPDU Secretary-General said.

“If they cannot be honest, the strike continues. Let the court decide.”

However, government officials say wrangles in the KMPDU leadership could be derailing the signing of a return-to-work formula.

According to the sources, there are different positions on the calling off of the strike. The sources say one side is ready to sign the document while another wants it signed on Monday.

Dr Atellah dismissed those claims, saying the union is intact, adding that they are meant to deflect attention from the strike.

“They have started the divide-and-conquer strategy. The government hopes to sow discord among doctors,” he said. 

“We are strong and united like never before.”

Mr Koskei and Mr Njuki said the government would seek leave from courts to dismiss the striking doctors.